Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom started his career with an idyllic childhood tale about growing up in Sweden during the age of Sputnik.
“My Life as a Dog” put him on the map, and led to “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” and “Chocolat” and a long career in international cinema. “Hachi: A Dog’s Story,” a Japanese set true story of a dog who stayed loyal after his owner’s death, is also on his resume.
But Universal and Walden Media’s “A Dog’s Purpose” is giving him something his films have avoided over the decades — controversy. It’s an innocuous enough story, and Dennis Quaid is the big name in it. But video, apparently recorded on set and in plain sight of the crew, shows a German shepherd featured in the film forced — in what looks like a cruel and heartless way — to dive into a huge water tank for a green screen scene for the movie.
It’s gone viral, and being about an animal being abused in the making of a movie, it has utterly overwhelmed any buzz the film might have had before its Jan. 27 release. A sweet story about how dogs touch lives, with a reincarnation twist, it seems to have no chance at anything like a successful release, now.
PETA is calling for a boycott. And it looks like another black eye for the American Humane Association, which signs off on the “no animals were harmed making this film,” sometimes with a scandalous disregard for what actually happened. One head has already rolled from this rubber-stamp organization, according to TMZ. Criminal charges might come in Canada, where the movie was filmed.
Back on Sept. 11, 2001, I watched the second jetliner crash into the World Trade Center before heading off to an AM screening of a Disney comedy, “Big Trouble.” When I returned to the office, I called Disney and asked them to give me the scoop when they came to realize they needed to pull the movie. It has a bomb on a plane as a third act plot element.
Sure enough, they called and they pulled it. It came out a year later and promptly disappeared. This is kind of like that. Only “Big Trouble” wasn’t the source of the problem, merely a movie with inconvenient timing.
Universal’s Canadian-shot movie almost drowned a dog, on camera, with the American Humane Association signing off on it. Perhaps the representative was off-set. They have a rep for phoning this sort of “no animals were harmed” endorsement in.
Another important difference between “Big Trouble” and “A Dog’s Purpose” is the distributor. Disney is attentive to what people say about their picture, guarding the brand, seeking religious/indigenous cover for animated films that might be controversial and typically doing that in advance.